1989 French Grand Prix

220px-Paul_Ricard_1986Circuit Paul Ricard
9 July 1989

In the three weeks since the Canadian race, there had been some developments in the driver market. Unsatisfied with progress, Larrousse had sacked both Philippe Alliot and Yannick Dalmas (still apparently not entirely recovered from his Legionella infection). In came fellow Frenchman Éric Bernard to replace Dalmas, but Alliot had to be embarrassingly re-hired after his projected replacement, McLaren test driver Emanuele Pirro, ended up in a Benetton instead, replacing a “rested” Johnny Herbert. Derek Warwick had compounded the misery of his retirement in Canada by hurting his back in a kart race, and his seat at Arrows would be filled by Lotus test-driver Martin Donnelly. Benetton had reluctantly announced that Johnny Herbert would be rested for three months and in his place came Finally, Tyrrell had finally got sponsorship in the shape of the Camel cigarette brand, and their cars were now resplendent in yellow and blue – unfortunately this meant that Marlboro-backed Michele Alboreto was out, “hopefully just for this race” and in his place sat French F3000 hotshot Jean Alesi.

Image result for jean alesi 19894. Jean Alesi fr

Born Giovanni Alesi to expatriate Sicilian parents in Avignon, Jean changed his name at school and spent time working with his father in the family garage and watching him compete in rallying and hillclimbing events. Getting into Karting at 16, Jean graduated in 1983 to the French Renault 5 Turbo championship before winning the French F3 title in 1987. A move into F3000 with the Oreca team proved less successful, but a move to Eddie Jordan’s team in 1989 saw him renew his championship rivalry from 1987 with Érik Comas and he had won one of the four races so far. Fortunately for him, the F3000 season was on a summer break when Ken Tyrrell came calling. His helmet design was a tribute to the popular Italian driver Elio de Angelis who had died three years earlier.

Martin_Donnelly.jpg9. Martin Donnelly gb

Belfast-born Donnelly began his career in the Irish Formula Ford championships at the age of 19, before moving to the mainland to contest the British Formula 3 and Formula Ford 2000 series. His debut in Britain in 1983 was overshadowed by the titanic battle between Martin Brundle and Ayrton Senna for the title, but by 1985 he had graduated to European F3000 and then moved in to Sportscar racing and Formula 3000 as Jean Alesi’s team-mate at Eddie Jordan Racing. He won the second round in Vallelunga on the road, only to be disqualified but was still viewed as a good prospect. He had spent 1988 and 1989 so far with the thankless job of test driver for the struggling Lotus team, and was recommended to Arrows by Derek Warwick personally.

Image result for emanuele pirro benetton20. Emanuele Pirro it

Born in Rome, Pirro started racing karts early, at the age of 11 and moved into Formula Fiat Abarth at 18 before quickly motoring through the various feeder categories. He joined Onyx Racing in Formula 2 in 1984, and remained with them when they moved up into F3000 in 1985 and 1986. Becoming McLaren test-driver for the 1988 season, he moved to Japan where he competed in Japanese F3000 where he came 3rd in the standings, while at the same time developing and testing the new Honda V10 engine in preparation for the 1989 season. Initially approached by Guy Larrousse to replace Philippe Alliot, he was quickly snapped up by Benetton to replace Herbert instead, with the blessing of Ron Dennis.

Bernard229. Éric Bernard fr

Bernard was born near Marseille and started karting at age 13, winning four French karting titles in the following seven years. Earning a scholarship to the racing school at Paul Ricard, he beat drivers including Jean Alesi and Bertrand Gachot to the Volant Elf title, gaining himself a fully-sponsored drive in Formula Renault for 1984. He won the title the following year and moved into Formula 3 in 1986, where he came second to Alesi in the final standings before winning himself the following year. F3000 beckoned for 1988 but he struggled to 9th in the championship, having changed from the Ralt team to Bromley Motorsports midway through. Signing for DAMS in 1989, things had picked up and he already had a win under his belt as they went into the summer break.

The drama wasn’t over yet though – on Friday morning Alain Prost held a press conference to announce what some had already suspected: 1989 would be his last year with the McLaren team. Although he didn’t say so, the assumption was that his working relationship with Ayrton Senna was, he felt, beyond repair. A frenzy of speculation erupted as to his destination, also unspecified. One of the strongest rumours was that he would replace Riccardo Patrese at Williams at the request of his former employer, Renault.

Almost forgotten amid all the excitement, there was a motor race to be had. Pre-qualifying showed that the Pirelli tyres weren’t working as well here as they had elsewhere and Brundle again failed to make it through. Instead, the Pre-qualfying timing sheets were headed by Bertrand Gachot and Stefan Johansson, with Caffi and Modena also making it through. Qualifying proper saw Alain Prost take pole at his home race, with Senna alongside. On row 2 were Mansell and Nannini in the new Benetton B189, going well in its first race, with former Arrows team-mates Boutsen and Berger sharing row 3. In 7th place, apparently galvanized by his brush withFRA89 Alesi.jpg unemployment, was Philippe Alliot, with Patrese 8th, Jonathan Palmer an excellent 9th and Gugelmin 10th. Whatever was in the Onyx team’s water was doing wonders as Gachot made his debut from 11th place and Johansson was 13th. Three of the new boys lined up together; Donnelly 14th, Bernard 15th and Alesi  (left) 16th. Pirro would start 24th in the old B188 after problems in practice. Another bad session for Lotus saw Nakajima 19th and Piquet 20th, while de Cesaris celebrated his podium in Canada by failing to qualify along with Sala, Danner and Moreno.

The weather on race day was sweltering and many predicted a lot of retirements. They seemed
to be right when Riccardo Patrese’s electrics failed on the formation lap and he pulled off with a resigned air. The rest lined back up and the lights went green and as everyone piled through the first corner, Gugelmin arrived too fast and smacked into the back of Boutsen’s Williams, launching into the air, flipping over and coming to rest. The ensuing multiple pileup forced a restart, FRA89 crahs.jpgwhich was good news for Patrese at least, who was able to start in the spare car as Boutsen’s car wasn’t too badly damaged. A shaken but unhurt Gugelmin would take the restart from the pitlane along with Martin Donnelly and Nigel Mansell, and in a remarkably short time they were ready to go again.

The second start was clean, but just as sensational because Senna travelled about 10m and then stopped; a broken differential when changing up to second meant his race was run. So Prost took the lead, hotly pursued by Berger, with Nannini and Boutsen following and Alliot up to fifth. As Prost gradually eased into a commanding lead and never really looked threatened, there was still plenty of action to go. Berger kept harrying him until lap 12 when he overcooked things and spun, dropping him to fourth and releasing Nannini in the new FRA89 Nannini.jpgBenetton to have a go. Another dozen laps later, Nannini came in for tyres and Boutsen was up to second, with Berger retiring on lap 30 (not the gearbox for a change!) and then Nannini was back on lap 34 as the Belgian also stopped. The Benetton B189’s debut came to a spectacular end on lap 41 when his left-rear suspension failed at 140mph. That put Ivan Capelli up to second – a great drive from 12th in a car that had disappointed so far this year. High hopes of a return to form for March were dashed just three laps later when his engine blew, which in turn promoted Jean Alesi to second. In his first-ever Grand Prix! In a Tyrrell!

Could a fairytale French podium be on the cards with double champion Prost and new sensation Alesi first and second? Not just yet, because closing on the Tyrrell were Patrese and Mansell having a terrific scrap for third after the Brit – driving Berger’s car after his own was broken by the Gugelmin incident – had made up 17 places. Both were going flat out and by lap 49 both were past Alesi who just didn’t have the grunt to keep them behind. Mansell continued harrying Patrese until the Italian had a spin and the Ferrari was through into second.

Further back, Bertrand Gachot had made it up into the points before having to come in for a new battery and Philippe Alliot had impressed a lot of doubters by hanging onto fifth and sixth places until his Lamborghini engine failed spectacularly.

FRA89 senna empty car.jpgAlain Prost, meanwhile, cruised serenely to his second win of the year to extend his championship lead to 11 points. Mansell miraculously kept his Ferrari going to finish second with Riccardo Patrese recovering third from Alesi to have his fourth successive podium visit. Alesi finished a very creditable fourth on his debut, Johansson scored Onyx’s first points in fifth place and Grouillard opened his account with sixth place and a point for Ligier. Just out of the points in 7th was Eddie Cheever – a fine drive after starting 25th.

Drivers’ Championship

Position Driver Points*
1 Alain Prost 38
2 Ayrton Senna 27
3 Riccardo Patrese 22
4 Nigel Mansell 15
5 Thierry Boutsen 13
6 Sandro Nannini 8
7 Michele Alboreto 6
8 Johnny Herbert 5
9 Derek Warwick 4
= Maurício Gugelmin 4
= Stefano Modena 4
= Eddie Cheever 4
= Alex Caffi 4
= Andrea de Cesaris 4
15 Christian Danner 3
= Nelson Piquet 3
= Jean Alesi 3
18 René Arnoux 2
19 Stefan Johansson 2
20 Jonathan Palmer 1
= Martin Brundle 1
= Gabriele Tarquini 1
= Olivier Grouillard 1

* Top 11 finishes only are counted.

Constructors’ Championship

Position Constructor Points
1 McLaren-Honda 65
2 Williams-Renault 35
3 Ferrari 15
4 Benetton-Ford 13
5 Tyrrell-Ford 10
6 Arrows-Ford 8
= Dallara-Ford 8
9 Brabham-Judd 5
10 March-Judd 4
11 Rial-Ford 3
= Lotus-Judd 3
= Ligier-Ford 3
14 Onyx-Ford 2
15 AGS-Ford 1


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